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Making history come alive for children
February 20, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
How do you pass down family history (or any kind of history, really) so that kids will actually be interested in it?
After months of working on the family tree, I've decided to write down some of the more interesting family stories for my older nephew, who will turn 8 in a month.
I've decided he might be interested in the minute description of a log cabin owned by one ancestor in the wilds of 1770s Pennsylvania, as well as the deerhide breeches that ancestor wore. The English civil war between the Royalists and the Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell will probably make his eyes cross with boredom, but maybe he will still be interested in how it all affected one of his ancestors, a Scottish prisoner of war who was shipped to Connecticut to become an indentured servant. I would like him to know that women did more than cook, sew and have babies in that era. One of his ancestors was a midwife who rode 50 miles on horseback to get to her patients in the wilderness. Another was a Frenchwoman who received a dowry from the king of France when she agreed to travel to Quebec to marry a total stranger in that new frontier.
There are other stories that would probably give him nightmares, like the one about the ancestor who died with her baby in her arms during an Indian attack on her farm in Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1693. Yet another ancestor was rather infamous and his story completely inappropriate for young children, though I think he was ill-used by the famously puritanical Puritans and by his own wife.
I expect my nephew to laugh at some of the names of his ancestors. What were the Puritans thinking when they cursed their daughters with names like Deliverance, Experience, Mercy, Thankful and Wait? All are names of some of his Puritan forebears.
I suspect that a vividly told story, one that he knows connects him to the history of this country, can only make my nephew more interested in all of history. At least I hope that will be the case.
How have you made history come alive for the children in your families?
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